Opening day in the major leagues is Sunday, but for Jawanza Starling, splitting his spring between baseball and football, his first taste of gridiron action with the new staff came Thursday afternoon.
"It felt great to get back out here with the boys," Starling said. "This is go time right here, the place where you start regular season preparation."
The sophomore from Tallahassee is hitting .300 as a reserve outfielder for the Trojans, but also has an opportunity to claim a starting job in the secondary with the departure of Taylor Mays and Will Harris.
"We came to each other in the offseason and said it's our time to take over," Starling said. "Will and T left, now it's time to fill their shoes."
Growing up in the Florida panhandle, Starling needed no introduction to new assistant head coach Monte Kiffin and defense, citing the Bucs' 2002 Super Bowl.
"Tampa Bay was my favorite team," he said. "I was like, "Man, we're going to get a defensive (guru) extraordinaire."
"He's bringing an NFL system here, so it will prepare me for the next level," Starling said.
Offensive line numbers get thinner
The Trojans got a scare when center Kris O'Dowd went down midway through practice and stayed down for an extended period of time. However, O'Dowd later said he only suffered a mild left knee sprain.
"I got real fortunate," he said. "It's just a sprain, but it could have been a lot worse."
After missing significant time in 2007 and 2009 with a dislocated right kneecap, O'Dowd knows the risk of injury but could return for the first practice in full pads this weekend.
"If I feel good, I'll be out there. Hopefully that will be Saturday."
The news wasn't as lucky regarding Michael Reardon. Coach Lane Kiffin confirmed the redshirt junior suffered a broken vertebra in a weekend ATV accident will cost him all of spring ball and possibly beyond.
"The vehicle he was in rolled over and he hurt his neck," Kiffin said. "He could be out for a while.
"He understands our disappointment in him and it is hopefully something our other guys can learn from."
Walk-on Abe Markowitz worked at center with O'Dowd and Reardon sidelined.
-Blake Ayles and Rhett Ellison were able to go through some individual drills, including working on blocking with the offensive line and coach James Cregg, but David Ausberry and Jordan Cameron again took the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 reps at tight end.
-A slimmed-down Matt Barkley is already seeing the benefits of his weight loss, showing better footwork and quickness on several scrambles and even a designed naked bootleg.
-Fresno State coach Pat Hill attended practice. Kiffin began his career as a student assistant under Hill in 1997, while Baxter spent 13 years with the Bulldogs from 1997 to 2009.
-Defensive tackle DaJohn Harris had the play of the day, tipping a Barkley pass and snatching it out of the air for an interception.
"That play was incredible," Harris said. "I've been waiting for it since I got here, the play I needed."
-Receiver Ronald Johnson has been the MVP through two days of practice, Kiffin said.
Kris O'Dowd suffered a mild left knee sprain during Thursday's practice.
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